Speaker Candidates Joust for Progressive Mantle at Brooklyn Forum

Councilman Jumaane Williams introduces himself at the Brooklyn council speaker's forum.
Councilman Jumaane Williams introduces himself at the Brooklyn council speaker’s forum.

The seven leading candidates for City Council speaker clustered at a forum in Brooklyn earlier this evening, where they spent much of the time boasting about their their left-leaning credentials.

In addition to East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who co-chairs the council’s growing Progressive Caucus, the stage included another caucus member, Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams, who formally declared his candidacy tonight by appearing at his first candidates’s forum.

“I think we’ve made a right turn, which is actually left, where we’re going to a progressive city,” Mr. Williams told more than 100 liberal locals and Democratic insiders gathered in an ornate courtroom at Brooklyn Borough Hall. “The entire country is looking at us and we have the weight of responsibility on us and I want to make sure we understand that if we fail this time, it’s gonna be generations before we get another shot.”

But Ms. Mark-Viverito, who is considered the race’s early front-runner, was not to be outdone.

“Now is the progressive moment in time,” Ms. Mark-Viverito asserted at the beginning of the forum, just after Mr. Williams made his pitch. “I am the progressive candidate that has an inclusive vision, that has demonstrated effective leadership in the past eight years.”

Ms. Mark-Viverito, who has been bolstered by union support, also stressed the fact that she was the “first” council member to endorse Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, now the face of liberalism in the city. But her rival, Manhattan Councilwoman Inez Dickens, who was once a fierce ally of Mr. de Blasio’s mayoral rival, outgoing Speaker Christine Quinn, managed to at least indirectly tweak Ms. Mark-Viverito by suggesting someone else had endorsed him first.

“I want to acknowledge Council member Andy King, because I watched him stand alone to be the first council member to publicly have a press conference to endorse the new mayor,” she said, gesturing to the Bronx councilman seated in the audience. Ms. Dickens’s prospects in the race dimmed after Ms. Quinn’s loss, but she insisted yesterday she still thinks she can win.

The caucus pair also had other left-leaning company.

Queens Councilman Mark Weprin, often characterized in the media as one of the more “moderate” contenders, repeatedly noted that his mother is Cuban, his district is teeming with minorities and that he supports non-citizen immigrants voting in municipal elections as well as reforms to stop-and-frisk.

“I was a supporter of the Community Safety Act as well … I was attacked for it in my district,” declared Mr. Weprin, referring to legislation aiming to curb the NYPD stop-and-frisk tactic. “I represent a district that is over 40 percent black, Latino and South Asian and for those communities in particular, this [stop-and-frisk] is a real problem for people … when it came down to making this decision, it was completely consistent with my progressive voting record.”

Beyond Mr. Weprin, Bronx Councilwoman Anabel Palma, a dark horse contender, seized upon the zeitgeist of the night–even appropriating Mr. de Blasio’s campaign theme. 

“When our mayor ran for office in September, he told us it was a ‘Tale of Two Cities.’ Well I am that, I am a tale of two cities,” said Ms. Palma, who has lived her own Horatio Alger story. “I am that person that he was talking about. I am that person that had experienced homelessness … I tried really hard to make sure every average New Yorker has the services that they need.”

One of the central questions of the evening, among insiders at least, was what Mr. Williams’s official entrance into the race means for the emerging progressive bloc, which has pledged to stay united. Having two speaker candidates among their ranks may complicate their mission. Yet Councilman Brad Lander, a leader of the caucus, and Mr. Williams brushed off any suggestions that the progressive strength would be diluted because of Mr. Williams’s decision.

“We’re both in this to be speaker so I think the more ideas that we have, the more vision that is spread, it’s better for everyone,” Mr. Williams told Politicker after the forum.

The contest will be decided by the 51 members of the incoming council when it convenes in the new year. Also in the running are Manhattan Councilman Dan Garodnick and the Bronx’s Jimmy Vacca.

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